It was like watching a movie, but not a slick Hollywood movie. Instead of two absurdly beautiful twenty-somethings, two geezers star in my movie: Gene, known as old Gray Beard, and me, his wife and once-upon-a-time babe.
The night before the movie begins, in a hotel in Playa del Carmen, I made a suggestion that seemed benign at the time: "Let's go to Cozumel tomorrow."
Sitting on the bed drinking a beer, Gene said, "I'd rather sit under a banyan tree and drink beer."
My thinning brow arched. "What? How could you?" I slapped the tour book down on the nightstand.
"Easy. Just watch me," he said. "Besides it'll be mobbed with tourists."
"We can rent a motor scooter," I paused. "And go to the far side of the island."
"I'm tired," he said. "I'd rather sit."
"But that's what you always do: sit and drink beer."
Gene was up on his feet trying to stare me down. "Can't you leave me alone for one day?"
I met him eye to eye. "But this is our dream vacation." And then I delivered the winning whine: "You promised."
Sometimes winning is losing.
The movie begins on a beach road in Cozumel. In the Hollywood version, the lusty, young stars race by straddling a sleek new motorcycle. In my version, we senior citizens, on a rusty old Moped, putt-putt along on a bike that wobbles like an old drunk.
Our Moped ride continues into the afternoon when we approach the outskirts of the village of Cozumel. We manage the first stop by dragging our feet; the brakes don’t work that well on the rental. Rounding a corner, we hit a bump. I wonder why we’re speeding up. I grip his waist as we move faster and faster heading for the side of a building -- I can’t believe this piece of junk can go this fast. Questions like: “Is he really that pissed at me? Did he stroke?” run through my mind as the side of the building crumbles like a piece of stale wedding cake. The motorbike flies up and backwards -- this scene has been shot in slow motion -- and we land in a twisted heap on the sidewalk.
Within minutes an ambulance arrives. I’ve somehow gotten up on my feet and am watching the scene. Two guys in faded, baggy t-shirts and worn jeans move toward Gene, slouched against the curb. I wonder, “Could these guys be the EMTs?” They get him on his feet and try to walk him to the ambulance. He grabs for the guys yelling, “Help me. Help me man.” Worry creeps in. Gene, the Marine, never asks for help.
I briefly relax inside the ambulance, which is modern, even luxurious. The carpeting is lush and unstained. The ride is smooth. I let myself imagine a happy Hollywood ending. After all, rich tourists from all over the world visit Cozumel. Of course the medical care will be top notch.
After the accident, the two Hollywood stars are rushed to a peaceful clinic overlooking the sea. Although exotic and romantic, the facilities are up to date and efficiently run by beautiful people speaking perfect English who never mention money.
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Breakfast and a Cigarette, Part II:
by Bill McLaughlin
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